No Kona.

By Coach Tom Walker

For the last five years, a pursuit towards one goal has been simmering away. A quick check of TrainingPeaks tells me that on avg, 12hrs and 40mins each week were dedicated to it. Some weeks would be 25hrs, some weeks would be only 1.5hrs. This goal wasn’t just about personal satisfaction, it was about enhancing a career, it was about being to able to reap the external rewards that came with it.

To put this much time into something over the duration of five years is undoubtedly an addiction. Addicted to the highs of PB’s in training to the lows of missed results in racing. Addicted to setting back up, ready to have another go, addicted to the feeling of knowing I am good enough to achieve it but only if I work at 100% of what I am capable of. Addicted to the idea that with this one goal, my life will change for the better.

For the last five years, I have been Tom Walker – Addicted to going to Kona.

Ok so ye, definitely worse addictions to have and it’s not an addiction I am ashamed or regretful of, but I want to write about it because in April this year I achieved the goal of getting a Kona slot and I turned it down…

You don’t go to a doctor based on the surgeries they’ve had.

You go based on their success with patients. For some reason in the triathlon world we judge coaches based on if they’ve raced at World Championships. Absolutely, some of the best coaches in the world have been former pro’s but some of the best have also never gone anywhere near the podium. My mind has changed so much on this over the years, in fact it’s done a complete 180. If I see a coach now advertising themselves based on what races they have done or won I respect them less. Coaching is a completely non selfish vocation, we can only judge ourselves based on what our athletes we’ve been responsible for have achieved, not just in races either, through their lifestyle and health. There are athletes who coach and then there are coaches who are also good athletes. One of my biggest drivers to continue pursuing an AG podium at Ironman is so I could say this with no backlash reaction of ‘easy to say when you weren’t good enough’. Coaches who race hold a unique perspective that coaches who don’t race cannot get. Coaches should be racing or at least going to races with their athletes, they should know what modern day races feel and look like but the result is not important, the learnings they take from their experience is.

The ugly side to IRONMAN.

There is a lot to be said here, how they handled race cancellations and deferrals in the pandemic was simply awful. Triathlon Taren did a brilliant video in 2020 explaining much of IRONMANS financial issues, watch it here. Since working with IRONMAN UK for several years prior to being in Dubai I’ve had very little positive things to say about them. They pay their staff peanuts, and we all know the saying there… From the outside everything looks under control, from the inside, it’s chaos. They also pay their pro’s some of the lowest prize purses on the circuit, check some data on that here. For me to talk badly about them but continue to support them by entering races feels very hypocritical. 

The understanding.

My job means I am as close to AG athletes as anyone. Most people sign up to a long distance triathlon for the challenge, or to challenge themselves. The way IRONMAN market themselves is very, very good. Of course I understand why people want to race them, I got caught up in it myself. I will never tell anyone not to race an IRONMAN, it’s one of the greatest experiences you can have. More often than not, the experience is so good, you want to replicate it again, and again, and again. That is hard, you only get one debut… eventually you must face the music and understand what you are chasing…

As I detailed earlier, I was chasing approval and external reward. Two things that can lead you to great achievements but also great disappointments. Winning my AG at 70.3 Bahrain in 2019 taught me this more than ever. ‘Yes! I won’… ‘Shit, I feel I should be happier’, ‘I will be happier when I go to Kona’, wrong. As I broke my mind down over the days proceeding that race I realised I wasn’t happy because other endurance teams had been there with greater numbers and happier clients. Coach first or athlete first, this feeling told me the answer. Many more lessons would come my way over the next two years but four big ones stand out to me;

March 2020, two clients who should have gone to South Africa with me to race completed an Iron distance triathlon all on their own with only friends and myself as support. One of my proudest days as a coach…

October 2020, I buy a mountain bike and realise how happy I am to be training with no data or goal other than to ‘learn’.

May 2021, Six endurance coaches I am responsible for help over thirty people to complete incredible feats at our annual Into the Darkness event. My pride hits a new time high.

November 2021, I spend a week in Iten, Kenya and come to the realisation I would rather train to go running with the Kenyans than to stand on a start line.

All this is helping me to understand, Kona will not make me happier, nor a better coach. Ego is the enemy.

Actions speak louder than words.

Kona is 100% one of the most special places I have ever been. I was fortunate enough to go in 2017 to support. I realise exactly what I have turned down, hopefully the above explains the reasons why I think it is worth it. If we don’t show action through ourselves then what is our word worth? Post race in SA a coach who also qualified congratulated me and of course asked the question, ‘are you taking your slot’? I replied I wasn’t going to and explained through my reasons i’ve said above. ‘Man, I couldn’t agree more’ he said, to which I asked if he had taken his, ‘Yes I took it, I just have to race there one more time’. I smiled and said congrats… 

Let’s wrap things up then. For the last five years I pursued one goal, for the last two of those five years I started to understand I was doing it for the wrong reasons. To bail on the goal would have been ‘talk is cheap’ in my mind so I continued to work for it, to be able to show with my actions (and this article) that we need not be obsessed with medals and trophies, that personal and intrinsically challenging pursuits may be the answer. This doesn’t mean not racing, but it means understanding reasons behind the why of racing.

There is something special about feeling like you’ve got a new tool in the tool box of life, let’s have some fun!


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Posted on 8th May 2022